OK, OK, I know that Disneyland is the ultimate corporate manipulation of the working class via our children. And that Disney princesses are poor role models for future strong, intelligent, independent women.
I know, I know.
And I know that the cost of tickets and food is frustratingly outrageous, placing Disneyland beyond the reach of average families.
It’s just good. Disneyland is just good. For the wallet, not so much. But for the spirit, it’s a bargain. It’s where memories are made, and can be revisited. And that’s what my daughter and I did recently — revisited Disneyland on a whim, while in Camarillo for a family party. Only 75 miles away, Disneyland was practically next door.
We had to do it. We just had to.
My daughter was the instigator.
“If we get up at 5 a.m. and leave by 6, we’ll be there when it opens at 8 a.m. We could pull this off!”
And you’re thinking, “Hmmm. It doesn’t take two hours to drive 75 miles.” Ah — you haven’t driven in Los Angeles. Driving hours in L.A. time are like dog years. One hour on The 101 at rush hour is like seven hours anywhere else, except San Francisco, where it’s 10.
Note that I said “The” 101, like a proper SoCal-ian. Somewhere just south of San Luis Obispo, the “The” becomes mandatory.
We wrenched ourselves out of bed before sunrise, and headed off to Mickey’s place at a clip. I’ve never seen L.A. at high speed before. Usually, it’s stop-go-stop-go-swear-stop-go-swear-stop-stop-stop inching along, with ample time to observe every grimy gas station and graffiti-tagged overpass. Not at 6 a.m. on a Sunday. All the Angelenos were still asleep, and driving was a breeze. Ditto for parking, hopping the tram and going in. However, I realized immediately that some things had changed since our last visit during the charmed pre-9/11 days: purse and backpack searches before entering. Sad, really. Even at The Happiest Place on Earth, where you’ll never see a speck of trash anywhere, you’ll still see a speck of reality. But that dissipates as soon as you pass through the gate and hear that giddy Disneyland music. Reality? What’s that! (You’ll remember as soon as you buy lunch.)
The ocean fog made for a perfect cool morning, and we darted off to visit our can’t-miss rides before the summer sun and crowds arrived. We began at the Small World. There’s nothing more symbolic of a Disneyland homecoming than those slow, happy little boats drifting through dazzling, dancing, singing dolls, and firmly implanting THAT song in your brain in an endless loop. (Yes, I know it’s lame! I told you, “Shsssshhhhh!”)
As we floated toward the white and gold palace, Janine poked me to look at her. She was mimicking a photo of her at age 4, in exactly the same spot, with her thumb firmly planted in her mouth. I laughed out loud… but inside, a twinge. Wow. Where did 21 years go? I blinked, and they were gone. Thankfully, the kaleidoscope of color, sound and tender nostalgia inside eased that bittersweet pinch.
We made our rounds in Fantasyland (dang, when did the Peter Pan ride become so popular?) and then headed to Space Mountain. I’d innocently taken 4-year-old Janine on that ride. She’d met the height requirement, and I figured, “Hey, it’s Disneyland — how bad could it be?” Turns out, bad enough, for a 4-year-old who’s never ridden anything more terrifying than the merry-go-round at the county fair. Space Mountain is a pretty respectable roller coaster — high speed, deep plunges and sharp turns, and all in the dark with pounding music.
Twenty-one years ago, I was sure I’d traumatized her for life. I was horrified. I apologized profusely for hours, and also for years. But now, Janine hopped right on and off we went, shrieking and laughing our lungs raw, and she was smiling when we got off. Whew. Maybe I’ll finally pardon myself for that transgression.
With a light morning crowd, we enjoyed an amazing number of rides. By about 2 p.m., the crowds and the sun had arrived in force. We got in the Roger Rabbit line, unaware that the waiting line twists for miles underground. It was there, in a humid, cramped tunnel, surrounded by hot, impatient children, that we learned the value of a “Fast Pass.” We also learned that our feet were clearly two decades wimpier.
We made the mistake of sitting down afterwards to munch some peanut brittle and recuperate. Sitting is a mistake, my friends. Your body will seize that window of opportunity to sabotage your fun. I suddenly felt like I had a full-body headache. It was only 5 p.m.
“What if I told you that I’m kinda spent,” I asked Janine gingerly. To my astonishment, she replied, “I am too.”
Wow. We weren’t the party Spartans we used to be.
We mitigated our wussiness by noting that if we left early, we’d circumvent the crush of bodies and heel-munching baby strollers at closing time, as well as the sea of traffic. We sweetened that mitigation by deciding to get sushi for dinner.
Is there anything that sushi won’t mitigate?
We weren’t far down The 5 heading north, when I realized — I want to go back! Of course we didn’t, but here we are, two weeks later, and I still want to go back. Why? Because returning to Disneyland is as sweet and pure and amazing as stuffing a huge wad of pink cotton candy in your mouth.
Of course it’s no good for you! But… it’s so, so good for you, in a way not measured by “shoulds.” Disneyland is a portal to revisiting those brief, precious years with your children that flicker by faster than Tinkerbell. Which makes Disneyland a bargain, doesn’t it. For the price of a ticket, I spent time with my little girl again. And believe me — it was priceless.
— Email Debra DeAngelo at firstname.lastname@example.org; read more of her work at www.wintersexpress.com and www.ipinionsyndicate.com